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Remembering The Illustrious Griswold Hotel

Groton's Finest Hotel is Gone, But The Memories Remain

Morton F. Plant, a gregarious philanthropist whose family had millions, savored the unusual beauty of the area.  With generous funding, he revived Groton literally from the street up.  He was credited with funding numerous projects including the construction of Groton Town Hall and road paving.  But perhaps his greatest addition was the Griswold Hotel. 

Two years after building his Branford Estate, Plant purchased the dilapidated Fort Griswold House on the eastern point of the Thames River.  He demolished the 175-foot structure and in 1906 erected a dazzling two-story luxury hotel in just 6 months.  A total of 400 rooms, The Griswold Hotel was 240 rooms larger than Ocean House in Watch Hill, making it the largest and most visited luxury hotel in the Northeast.

As described by a 1914 Griswold Hotel brochure, orchestras would grace the piazza in the mornings and the freshest of food was grown by Bradford Farms.  The rooms, detailed in mahogany, were lit with electricity and provided luxurious long-distance telephone service.  Dancing was offered nightly, and no expense was spared on service, food or decor.

Late Groton Historian Carol Kimball wrote, ”When I was growing up, the 400-room Griswold was the glamorous summer playground for the wealthy, whose yachts were anchored off-shore, especially during Boat Race week, when many celebrities stayed within those wooden walls.” 

The Griswold was home to the Harvard -Yale Regatta every spring.  According to Historian James Streeter, during the event, locals forraged the grounds in search of glasses, traditionally thrown out the widows by guests during the celebratory toast.

Wealthy guests such as Jacquiline Kennedy, the Rockefellers, the Vanderbuilts and presidents such William Howard Taft and Franklin D. Roosevelt all graced the velveted and mirrored corridors during the hotel's operation.

“Morton Plant’s major parties were held at the hotel because his mansion (Branford Mansion) was not large enough for his guests, so he had parties at the Griswold.” said Streeter.

As all good thing come to an end, the hotel took a downturn after the stock market crashed in 1929. The property changed hands several times until Milton O. Slosberg purchased it in 1956, and attempted to resuscitate the failing business.  Slosberg added a 3,600 ft. salt water pool, painted annually, modernized, refurnished and invested a million dollars in upgrades. 

But large-scale luxury lodging eventually lost popularity, and the great Griswold Hotel served the last guest September 1967 before closing its opulent doors.  Eventually razed in 1968, the contents of the hotel were auctioned off, and with each lot sold, evidence of an exuberant and decadent era made its way into the private sector, leaving just a handful of memories. 

Skipper Hanzel February 21, 2011 at 06:38 PM
As a young sixteen year old in 1957 I worked at the Griswold in the summer parking cars. My drivers license was not four months old. I would be at the front door when people checked in and I would get their car to take to the lot. Many of the cars were models that I had never heard of and driving them was a lot different than the 1933 Plymnouth coupe that my family owned. The working crowd were in large part a nomadic group who follwed the tourist trade and the weather between Miami and New England. There were barracks like accomodations for them and they were provided with meals. This group opened the eyes of a young small town kid. Out back was Black Magees where the help let off steam. I was paid fifteen dollars a week and made a lot more than that on tips. Biggest tip ever was $5.00 from the police commissioner from New York City. Skipper Hanzel, Navy brat from the old Navy Heights housing project. Graduate of Pleasant Valley grade school and Fitch Senior High. fwdbatt@earthlink.net
Juli Mancini February 24, 2011 at 03:32 AM
Thank you Skipper for your precious contribution to the story. It is wonderful to see the Griswold through the eyes of a sixteen year old.
Gary March 13, 2011 at 03:29 PM
I was 8 years old when I moved to a house just behind the fence at the first hole of the golfcourse which is bisected by "Plant St" (I now understand where that name came from). I used to walk by the hotel on my way to the beach. Before it was torn down I remember the roses along the south side which grew on arched trellis's, the dock on the river which had a tour boat and the enormous garage on the other side of the street (the street is gone now, don't remember its name). There were tennis courts which were maintained years after the hotel was gone. Two were asphault and two were red clay. Today the Shennecossett golfcourse has been reconfigured to occupy the land on the west side of Easten Point Rd where the hotel once stood. The original name of the course was the Griswold Golf Course. The architectural detail of the clubhouse had similarities to the garage at the hotel. The house I lived in on Three Acre Rd was originally near the clubhouse and part of the complex. When we removed the plaster walls in the living room to insulate we found two professionally printed sets of caddy"rules" nailed to the inside of the outer sheathing.
todd April 05, 2011 at 01:25 PM
Gary, Do you still have those caddie rules? We would love to make a copy and post it on Shennecossett's web site. Todd Head Pro, Shennecossett
Elise G Drexler July 19, 2011 at 06:06 PM
As the grandchild of one of the owners/managers, my fondest memories are of the hotel and the house on Shore Drive where I stayed during the summers. I still spend my vacations, in part, at the beach at the end of the street, having introduced my own grand daughter to the delights of the area this year. I wish I could recreate the glamour of the Cinderella Room for her....or the pleasant hours around the pool...or the Latin music coming from the bar near the pool. There are so many good times, and no one I know that remembers. If anyone has managed to retain some of the Griswold brochures, I would be pleased to pay for one for her. Morton Mencher's grand daughter, Elise Gordon - edrexler@nycap.rr.com
Michael Boucher July 20, 2011 at 12:25 PM
Hello Elise I live by the old Griswold Hotel site. I have a Griswold brochure from the 50's you could have. I collect any items I can find from the Griswold Hotel and have even built into my home items from the hotel ( lights, doors and a storage chest that ran along the bottom of the hotel stairs. Maybe you have a few old photos I could copy from the Griswold neighborhood?
Tom Concannon August 06, 2011 at 01:21 PM
Hi Elsie; I grew up at Griswold, my step mother ran the laundry there from the early forties until it closed. Before that a relative of hers ran it. i don't think there is any nooks and crannies I don't remember. I met your grandfather, I was a kid at the time, but I remember him. The E-mail address you have on your post, if it is good let me know and I will send you some pics that I have. I used when I was a kid ran the show lights in the Cinderella Room for acts that played there.
debra murallo December 19, 2011 at 02:46 PM
My Grandfather owned a big beach house on Circle Dr. at eastern point and i have the best memerioes of walking past the Griswold my cousins and I used to sneak in the pool on our way home from the beach and getting caught most of the time! I remember being so amazed at its beauty in the summer with the lawns so green and the flowers my family and I to this day always reminese of the good ols days at eastern point!
Laura Doukas April 23, 2012 at 04:09 PM
Hello, my name is laura I have a key to one of the rooms to the Griswold Hote l& Country Club Eastern Point in Groton Ct.
Marleen Denney May 30, 2012 at 04:03 AM
I have so many great memories of the Griswold. My parents met there in 1947. Throughout the 1950’s my family made several visits a summer to the Griswold, mostly weekend trips, but usually there would be one weeklong stay. Our room was always on the first floor, usually right over the Cocktail Lounge, and I would fall asleep listening to the Cuban music below. I remember the guestrooms each had both a regular door and a louvered outer door so you could have some ventilation in the summer heat. My brother and I spent a lot of time in the Sundry Store which had a couple of pinball machines in the corner. The woman who ran it would sometimes let me ring up the sales on the cash register. I learned to swim in the salt water pool, and when I got a little older my father and I would rent Raleigh 3-speed bikes and ride around the neighborhood. We continued to visit in the 60’s, although less frequently, until it was shut down. My brother, his wife and I made a little pilgrimage there in the late 90’s . You could still see the indentation where the pool was. I have a binder with about 30 8x10 photos of my parents and their friends (and a few with my brother or me) taken all over the Griswold by the hotel photographer. I’ll never forget my time there.
Ronald Alexander June 05, 2012 at 09:14 PM
It's great to be able to read these memories of The Griswold, my family would spend weekends there in the early 50's . I was eight or nine then and I learned to swim in the pool, early morning I would watch the fleet subs going to sea on patrol. Just wonder full memories. Ronald Alexander
George J. Venetod August 10, 2012 at 04:24 PM
The article brought back many memories as a teenager working durinr the summer months in the kitchen. At that time my uncle Jean Venetos was the owner of the Griswold. My mother remembers taking reservations for the hotel from the St. Moritz Hotel in New York City. He also was the owner of The Mohican in New London. George Jean Venetos
George J. Venetod August 10, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Correction: Venetos not Venetod
Tom Concannon August 10, 2012 at 05:26 PM
Hi George; I am aware of your uncle, my Mother would talk of him. my time at the Griwold was during when Mort Mencher an Slosberg owned. I haven't heard your uncles. name mentinsd in years. I am gld you brought it up. He deserves the mention in history of ther Griswold.
Wendy Oliver September 17, 2012 at 01:14 AM
I loved reading all these stories and memories of the Griswold. I was born years after the Griswold closed but have an interest in its history having grown up in the area. My real interest peaked when I found a postcard from the Griswold in the shed of an older family member after she passed away. The postcard is in perfect condition and is a picture of the hotel at night. I cherish having this little piece of local history.
Margaret Menzies February 13, 2013 at 01:42 AM
I grew up sailing on the Thames with my Dad. We used to love to l sail close so we could get a look at the Griswold. By then it was ready for closure but I loved learning about the history. I always thought it added such charm to an era of prosperous times in Groton and New London. Thanks for the shared memories
Bonnie Offerle February 17, 2013 at 05:36 PM
The summer I was 20, after my sophmore year in college (1959), along with two friends we drove an old Chevy from Grand Junction, Co to Groton, Ct to work at the Griswold Hotel as waitresses. I was seeking adventure and enough tuition money for the next school year. One of our parents contacted the Chamber of Commerce of Groton to check out its authenticity so we were given parental permission to make the trip. When we arrived we found that the hotel had been sold at the end of the last season and the dining room and kitchen were left just as they were at the end of the breakfast meal. Our first task was to chip out the old syrup from the silver pitchers, wash the dishes, etc., etc. Then a trip to the basement to be trained to carry a heavy silver tray loaded with silver covered plates with one hand. They had us climbing over couches and chairs holding these trays. For a skinny girl that was no easy task!! We lived in a barracks with a bathroom that was constantly flooded and with so much humidity we spent a lot of time ironing our hopsacking uniforms dry and trying to keep the mold out of our closets! We were paid $14.00 per month plus tips. The maitre'd (a David Niven look-alike in a tuxedo and a real charmer) and the secretary collected the tips to be distributed at the end of the month. At month-end David and the secretary ran away with our tips and we bailed out for other employment up the coast. I, however, loved the hotel and made many eastern friends.

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